This was the beginning of a long conversation during which the Emperor manifested both the liveliest interest and thorough familiarity with American politics, and, after a lengthy discussion of everything American, the Emperor said, “Dr. Talmage, you must see my eldest son, Nicholas,” with which he touched a bell, calling his aide-de-camp, who promptly summoned the Grand Duke Nicholas, who appeared with the youngest daughter of the Emperor skipping along behind him—a plump, bright little girl of probably eight or nine years. She jumped upon the Emperor’s lap and threw her arms about his neck. When she had been introduced to me she gave “The American gentleman” the keenest scrutiny of which her sparkling eyes were capable. The Grand Duke was a fine young man, of about twenty-five years of age, tall, of athletic build, graceful carriage, and noticeably amiable features. On being introduced to me the Grand Duke extended his hand and said, “Dr. Talmage, I am also glad to meet you, for we all feel that we have become acquainted with you through your sermons, in which we have found much interest and religious edification.”
Noticing the magnificent physique of both father and son, I asked the Emperor, when the conversation turned incidentally upon matters of health, what he did to maintain such fine strength in the midst of all the cares of State. He replied, “Doctor, the secret of my strength is in my physical exercise. This I never fail to take regularly and freely every day before I enter upon any of the work of my official duties, and to it I attribute the excellent health which I enjoy.”
The Emperor insisted that I should see the Empress and the rest of the Imperial Family, and we proceeded to another equally plain, unpretentious apartment where, with her daughters, we found the Empress. After a long conversation, and just as I was leaving, I asked the Emperor whether there was much discontent among the nobility as a result of the emancipation among the serfs, and he replied, “Yes, all the trouble with my empire arises from the turbulence and discontent of the nobility. The people are perfectly quiet and contented.”
A reference was made to the possibility of war, and I remember the fear with which the Empress entered into the talk just then, saying “We all dread war. With our modern equipments it could be nothing short of massacre, and from that we hope we may be preserved.”
My presentation at Peterhoff Palace to Alexander iii. and the royal family of Russia was entirely an unexpected event in my itinerary. It was in the nature of a compliment to my mission, to the American people who have contributed so much to the distress in Russia, and to the Christian Church for which this “hardhearted, cruel Czar” had so much respect and so much interest. It was said that in common with all Americans I expected to find the Emperor attired in some bomb-proof regalia. Perhaps I was impressed with the Czar’s indifference and fearlessness. Someone said to me that no doubt he was quite used to the thought of assassination. I discovered, in a long conversation that I had with him, that he was ready to die, and when a man is ready why should he be afraid?